Chubais Hogs Spotlight at Davos Again

The biggest informal meeting of influential business people and politicians from around the world ended last week.

Six years ago, when Izvestia was sent notice of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, few editors knew what it was all about. Today, thanks to the attention the news media pay to the event and the growing number of Russian government officials who attend, almost everyone is familiar with it.

For high-level officials in Davos, this is an excellent opportunity to put forward the positions of their party or country. Last year, the head of the presidential administration, Anatoly Chubais, went to the forum as a private person, just after he had been dismissed as deputy prime minister. The World Economic Forum as an organization and gathering is very sensitive to the formal status of people. But Chubais still turned out to be at the center of attention.

During last year's forum, he filled the role of a cold shower that sobered up businessmen and politicians who considered the then-presidential candidate, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, to be a social democrat.

One can well understand them: A year ago, very few people doubted that Zyuganov would be the next Russian president, and everyone sought to find something comforting about him. I was witness to how major businessmen and politicians were taken in by this delusion.

The only person who was able to dispel it was Chubais. His speech at Davos on the communists' true intentions caused a storm. The Russian business elite itself recognized that Chubais could be the principle ideologue in the struggle against a communist restoration in Russia. I would even say Davos was responsible for the start of Chubais' rapid return to politics.

This year, Chubais once again drew much attention to himself. He spoke neither at the plenary sessions nor even the panel discussions. But a single announcement that he would give a press conference drew so much interest that the forum's organizers had to move it from the small, stuffy press center to the plenary session hall.

Chubais said NATO enlargement to the East could be a fatal mistake that would change the balance of forces not only in Europe but in Russia itself. This year NATO replaced Zyuganov as the subject over which the West had delusions.

Many Western analysts are wondering whether Chubais' statement was not intended to launch a new political career. Those who do not realize the extent of Chubais' unpopularity in Russia, took his speech to be an announcement of his candidacy in the next presidential elections.

I think that, unlike the Western participants at Davos, the Russians took Chubais at his word when he said he had no presidential aspirations. Chubais has many flaws, but lack of good sense is not one of them. One of the most intelligent and talented bureaucrats and organizers in Russia, he is unlikely to waste his time on hopeless projects.

It would be far more interesting to know on whose team this master of political games will play in future presidential elections. The answer depends on another question: Who will be the next president of Russia. But the shortsighted Davos forum did not put this question to Chubais.

Mikhail Berger is economics editor of Izvestia.